For years, Nelli Bonny planned humanitarian projects as a stake Relief Society president in Geneva, Switzerland.
When she was released she missed the work. Then her husband, Geneva Switzerland Stake President Pierre Bonny, made a simple observation. "You don't have to be a Relief Society president to help people," he said. "Anybody can do it."
And so a tradition that started more than a decade earlier continued.
Meeting with the Church News in Salt Lake City, Sister Bonny spoke of the many projects she has completed with the help of Church members in Switzerland: The jackets they gathered for the poor, the toys they collected for children in need, bandages they crocheted for people with leprosy, the food bank shelves they filled, and the seeing-eye dog project they raised money to fund.
"I think it is good for the Church to get out among the people so they know who we are," she said.
The projects started years ago when Sister Bonny wanted to make service a part of her stake's annual women's conference. The first project was such a success that she was determined to complete a project every year as part of the annual event.
Then she realized the women in the stake would enjoy getting together to complete service at other times in the year as well.
The dozens of projects — the vast majority of which were intended to help people in their own communities — they have completed since then have been extremely successful, she said. "The sisters love to do it," she said. "They work together as sisters."
Sister Bonny said each project takes months of planning and hours and hours on the telephone. Sometimes, she said, she has to spend two days on the phone just to reach one person who can help her coordinate or finalize a project. The effort — "a lot, a lot of work" — is worth it, she said.
President Bonny, a fourth-generation Church member in Switzerland, said humanitarian work is ingrained in his family history.
He recalled a time as a little boy when he and his brother and sister found themselves in great need at Christmas time. Missionaries knocked on the door, not bringing toys for the children, but warm pullovers. The missionaries had pooled their money to buy the gifts.
"We did not ask the Church for help, but when somebody knew our needs and came, it touched us," he said.
Thinking of how he was once helped, motivates him "to do more," President Bonny said.
At least one humanitarian project coordinated by the Bonnys was a way to return service once rendered to them. This year Sister Bonny coordinated a project with an organization in Switzerland that helps people who are blind, the same organization that had once sent her seeing-impaired mother-in-law books on tape.
"You did something for her," she told organizers, "why can't I now do something for you?"
The organizers were thankful that Church members would think about them. "It is just little things," she said. "But they are touched."
So was another organization that received help from the Church.
Sister Bonny recalled the recent opportunity for service that came when the Church replaced the chairs in a meetinghouse in Switzerland. She knew a charitable organization that was in desperate need of the old chairs and received permission from the area presidency to make the donation.
When you are in contact with people in local organizations, "you find opportunities to help," she explained.
Other opportunities have come as the Church has worked with an organization that helps young single mothers; young women in the stake will crochet baby blankets as part of Young Women camp this year, for example.
"When you can finish a project, you can't explain the feeling you can get," she said. "I like to do humanitarian work, to go and see and talk."
Take, for example, the time Church members donated food to help a local charity that provides meals to those in need. Sister Bonny watched an older lady get her plate, then divide the food into three sections. Carefully, the lady packed up two-thirds of the food to save for later. Sister Bonny knew that to the woman, the food meant everything.
"That is the little things you see," she said. "If you don't do it, you can't see it."
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